House panel approves Defense, Labor-HHS spending bills

The House Appropriations Committee this afternoon approved more than $1 trillion in government spending in the fiscal 2007 Defense and Labor-Health and Human Services spending measures, accounting for about 37 percent of the total federal budget next year.

At the same time, the House approved $94.5 billion in fiscal 2006 supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, border security, hurricane relief and pandemic flu preparedness on a 351-67 vote; the measure could clear the Senate Tuesday night or Wednesday.

Combined with another $50 billion for the war effort contained in a "bridge fund" attached to the fiscal 2007 Defense bill, Tuesday's actions would bring total spending for the global war on terror to $450.8 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service.

House appropriators approved a $427.6 billion fiscal 2007 Defense spending bill, including the bridge fund, on a voice vote after roughly 10 minutes of debate. The panel accepted an amendment by Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member John Murtha, D-Pa., slapping a funding prohibition on the Pentagon against establishing permanent bases in Iraq.

Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., said, "We have no intention of making Iraq a client state of the U.S." House leaders negotiating the supplemental dropped a similar prohibition from that bill.

The Defense bill's allocation is $4 billion less than the president's request, as House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., shifted the money to Labor-HHS programs to make up a $4 billion shortfall between the fiscal 2006 bill and President Bush's fiscal 2007 Labor-HHS request.

"There's a little synergy there," said House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio.

The Defense bill is still $19 billion above the fiscal 2006 appropriation. More than a third of the money, about $157.9 billion including the bridge fund, is for operations and maintenance costs at home and abroad, reflecting the need to ensure that war costs do not cut into domestic activities and training, according to the committee report.

At $81.8 billion total, procurement funds are $6 billion over fiscal 2006 but $1.1 billion below the Bush request. Within that total, F-22 aircraft and DD(X) destroyer programs are fully funded at $4 billion. The measure contains about $5 billion in home-state earmarks, a 35 percent reduction from $7.7 billion in fiscal 2006, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

This afternoon, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., successfully amended the Labor-HHS bill to boost the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour over the next two years. It was approved on 32-27 vote. Including mandatory government benefit programs, the Labor-HHS bill approved by voice vote totaled $596.5 billion, of which total discretionary spending was $141.9 billion, or $842 million over fiscal 2006.

The panel defeated, on party-line votes, amendments offered by House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., to first add $6.3 billion for a variety of programs paid for by reducing tax cuts for millionaires, and then to set aside $400 million in advance funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Obey said the bill reflects an $11 billion cut from two years ago when adjusted for inflation and population growth.

"This bill represents the most visible failure of this Congress in defining the nation's priorities," Obey said.

The panel adopted a 79-page managers' amendment that restores $20 million in public broadcasting funds and $18 million for Community Service Block Grants. It also contains scores of earmarks, mostly less than $1 million but with some notable exceptions, such as $3 million to establish the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.

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